2018 OSCAR CIRCUIT: This week will officially kick off the precursor season, where the best films and performances of 2018 will be recognized by various critic and regional groups alike.  In particular, we are seeing the unveiling of the Gotham Awards later tonight before the National Board of Review weighs in on Tuesday.  Coming up on Thursday, New York Film Critics Circle will have its chance to make its mark on the year, with plenty of new, dynamic critic voices joining the crowd including Indie Wire’s Kate Erbland and Time Out New York’s Tomris Laffly (make us proud girls!).

Naturally, NBR has proven to be a huge indicator for future nominees and winners.  Trending about one miss per decade since the 1990s, NBR had already provided their one miss thus far when J.C. Chandor’s brilliant “A Most Violent Year” failed to translate to any Oscar attention. Coincidentally, it’s also the only film since 1971’s “Macbeth” that didn’t translate into ANY Oscar nominations by year’s end.

This year, we have a multitude of options on the table that the esteemed voting group can choose from.  The past few years have presented some out-of-the-box, cool choices that have catapulted films into the Oscar stratosphere.  Look back at selections like “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Her,” and “The Social Network” for examples.  Other times, the group makes a statement on a film, that doesn’t necessarily win another Best Picture prize for the rest of the season, but is solidified as a nominee early on.  Look back to “Good Night, and Good Luck,” and “Finding Neverland” for those examples.

This year, films like Alfonso Cuaron‘s impeccably made “Roma” feels like the defacto choice for any critics group to embrace early on, and could be the biggest threat of pulling the “trifecta,” winning at NBR, New York Film Critics Circle, and Los Angeles Film Critics Association.  Same goes for Directing citations as well, as the last person to win at all three was Barry Jenkins for “Moonlight.”  Other films like “The Favourite” from Yorgos Lanthimos and “BlackKklansman” from Spike Lee may wet their whistle.

Becoming an ongoing joke for over a decade, it’s no secret that the group loves anything from Clint Eastwood, proven by his five individual citations, three of which, did not translate to an Oscar nomination.  His newest outing “The Mule” from Warner Bros., is not scheduled to be screened by either group before their voting this week per Kris Tapley of Variety, and later confirmed by multiple sources within the voting groups.  With that off the table, you can get your “Clint-like” fix with anything coming from Bradley Cooper and his box-office smash, “A Star is Born.”  With many opportunities for a win, he can pop up in Director, Lead Actor, Adapted Screenplay, and Debut, without discounting the film winning the top prize as well.  As of late, the group has had no trouble giving a film a plethora of awards.

Other films and performances that can get a needed boost from the group include the underperforming “First Man” from Damien Chazelle, which could get some life breathed back into it with anything going to it or its cast members, particularly Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy, seemingly struggling per some pundits who have been making predictions.

Widows” from Steve McQueen has been lighting up the box office as one would have hoped, and after being deemed a “popcorn” movie for months, a listing in the Top 10 Films of the year or even a surprise Adapted Screenplay win for Gillian Flynn could put it back on the serious track.

In the line of “Mad Max: Fury Road,” don’t be surprised to see something like “Black Panther” take the top prize or its director, Ryan Coogler.  The group likes to make a statement, and this could be the beginning of an impeccable showing for the Marvel film if more critics come to its aid during voting.  I’d also watch out for it in Ensemble.

What’s often seen last, resonates in the minds of the voter leaving films like “Vice” from Adam McKay or “Mary Poppins Returns” from Rob Marshall to show strength.  As seen in the predictions, stars Christian Bale and Emily Blunt are expected to pop up possibly.  Speaking of the two films, both screened for SAG and Academy voters this past Thanksgiving weekend, both playing like gangbusters. Under the studio embargo, no official word can be shared yet but in the case of “Vice,” Christian Bale makes a compelling case for his second Academy Award, to go with his previous Supporting Actor prize for “The Fighter” in 2010.  As we’ve come to expect from Bale, he throws himself into Dick Cheney, body and soul, and never lets up and its the type of performance, critics and Academy voters could eat up.  He will present an alternative to Bradley Cooper in Best Actor and has shifted in front of Viggo Mortensen‘s work in “Green Book,” especially for the Lead Actor (Comedy or Musical) category at the Golden Globes, where the film was submitted.

When it comes to Emily Blunt, we’ve done this song and dance before (no pun intended).  The British actress has flirted with the Academy time and time again, gaining the respect of the industry and awards lovers alike.  Running within slots for “The Devil Wears Prada” and “The Young Victoria,” she even managed some near misses in “less than” films like “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” and “The Girl on the Train.”  In the title role of “Mary Poppins Returns,” her time has finally arrived and has likely given the Fox Searchlight Pictures campaign some overtime work this week, as Olivia Colman‘s work in “The Favourite” looked like it would run away with the Lead Actress (Comedy or Musical) prize.  Now, we have a bonafide fight on our hands.  I’d argue that Blunt may even find herself contending for the Oscar in the end, leapfrogging Lady Gaga‘s touted work in “A Star is Born” and may try to edge out long overdue veteran Glenn Close in Sony Pictures Classics’ “The Wife.”

And with every NBR winner class, there are always some that drop, and don’t go anywhere.  Ask the likes of Will Forte (“Nebraska”) or Lesley Manville (“Another Year”) about how much their wins helped their road to the Oscars.  This year, we’re looking at Amy Adams, to snag the Supporting Actress prize for her performance as Lynne Cheney in McKay’s political film, however, I’m expecting the performance to come up a bit short in the end by a woman who has six nominations to her credit, but doesn’t necessarily feel like the presumed winner.  Unsure there’s enough “there-there” to warrant an overdue citation by the Academy.

The screenplay categories can go one of many ways, and we’re keeping an eye on “Private Life” by Tamara Jenkins and “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty to take the Original and Adapted categories respectively. Animated Feature seems open as the group tends to go populist (which helps things like “Incredibles 2” and “Ralph Breaks the Internet“) but we expect them to go elsewhere on something from either GKIDS’ “Mirai” or Fox Searchlight Pictures’ “Isle of Dogs.”

The Breakthrough Performance citations are never consistent in that they sometimes split it up by gender or keep it under one umbrella.  If held under one roof, the young and up and coming women are in the Top 3 predictions and include Amandla Stenberg for multiple works this year including “The Hate U Give” but closely followed by Yalitza Aparicio for “Roma” and Cynthia Erivo for “Bad Times at the El Royale” and “Widows.”

The group also loves the combined prizes, when actors are in many works which is why we’ve been keeping a close eye on Brian Tyree Henry, who could win at both voting groups.  Henry, who is fantastic in “If Beale Street Could Talk” and is generating Oscar buzz, also delivers in small roles in “Widows,” “Hotel Artemis,” “White Boy Rick,” and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”  The man worked it out this year.

With all that said, we’re here.  NBR Predictions have been added to The Circuit Hub, along with New York Film Critics Circle.  NBR lists the Top 3 of each category save for the Top 10 or Top 5 types that give out while NYFCC lists five films and performances in each group.  We stayed clear of the “Special Award” that NYFCC gives out because God knows anyway.

Be sure to check out the Official Oscar Predictions Page to see where these films and performances rank among the contenders!